SPUTNIK Movie Review

Written by Ryan Holloway

Released by Vertigo Releasing


Directed by Egor Abramenko
Written by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev
2020 113 minutes, Not yet rated
Released on digital platforms 14th August

Oksana Akinshina as Tatyana Klimova
Fedor Bondarchuk as Semiradov
Pyotr Fyodorov as Konstantin Veshnyakov


Debut features don’t come much better than this; Director Egor Abramenko puts himself firmly on the map with a film that has all the ominous beauty of early Ridley Scott with the visceral body-horror scares of David Cronenberg.

Already a massive hit in Russia, and tightly scripted by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, Sputnik takes place at the height of the Cold War as a Soviet spacecraft crash lands after a mission goes horribly wrong. The only survivor is commanding astronaut Konstantin (Fyodorov) who is being kept under close observation by the elusive Commander Semiradov (Bondarchuk). When Semiradov needs help he brings in renowned psychologist Tatyana Klimova (Akinshina) to further evaluate the astronaut’s mental state as it becomes clear that he might have brought something deadly back to Earth with him.

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Flooded with the DNA of films such as Alien, Cloverfield, and more recently Life, Sputnik is a stunning sci-fi film that should by all rights become one of the most talked about genre films of the year. Abramenko’s direction is assured with sublime cinematography from Maxim Zhukov and a menacing score from Oleg Karpachev. The film is so deliciously dark, with every frame a piece of art and eating up as many of those frames as she can is psychologist Tatyana Klimova played by the incredible Oksana Akinshina (The Bourne Supremacy). Tatyana has a story of her own as when we are first introduced to her, she is the subject of a hearing into her conduct when saving a patient’s life.

With her livelihood on the line she is approached by Semiradov (Bondarchuk) who enlists her, and her unique ability to get the job done at any cost, to help him with a matter of national security.

Whisked away to a secure base she is tasked with ‘helping’ astronaut Konstantin (Fyodorov). Initially she sees a man who, although arrogant, is also suffering from PTSD, something she is not sure is worthy of all the secrecy and effort, but when a fellow, male, scientist, threatened by her mere presence in an interesting dash of ‘80s gender politics, shows her the real reason she is there, it opens her eyes to something fascinating yet monstrous as the creature that Konstantin has brought back with him is connected to him in a unique and deadly way. It would of course be irresponsible to go into greater detail on the creature or the motivations of its earthly captors as this is a film that has many little surprises up its sleeves.

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Sputnik is very similar, visually, to 2017’s Alien Covenant, as are its SFX, but haters, and there are a few, of that film need not worry because that is where the comparisons end. This film is sinister in tone but also has meaning behind the ambiguity and as the film continues on and we come to understand the motivations of all parties involved it leads to something that packs not only an exciting punch but also an emotional one. Kudos is also due to Algous Studio whose visual effects are the stuff of nightmares and when combined with Zhukov’s cinematography it makes for uncomfortable but compelling viewing.

At its core Sputnik is a film about the fight against a system that has lost its way amid gross paranoia and the fear of a potentially misunderstood enemy, and Oksana Akinshina’s performance perfectly embodies these battles.

It’s exciting also to feel the hunger of a director working on his first feature length film and make no mistake, Abramenko is adept at navigating the interweaving narrative strands and has a wonderful knack for shifting gears without it ever becoming jarring. One minute we are swept up by some quiet thoughtful performances and the next we are witness to some perfectly crafted scares that, instead of feeling tacked on for the sake of it or to break up the flow of the film, inform us of the very real dread that is to come and the implications of it.

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Although it’s hard to find fault here, if I was to be picky there is an unnecessary and somewhat confusing side-story about an orphaned child (again, no spoilers) that is a little messy in its delivery, but rest assured it still can’t detract from this dark gem and feels more like the giddiness of a first time director who can’t be blamed for wanting to throw everything at it.

Sputnik is destined to make many genre fan’s top ten lists of 2020, and so it should, it’s brave, stunning to look at with perfect visual effects and subtle yet powerful central performances. It’s also sure to one day get an unnecessary big-budget remake so we’ll look forward to smugly saying the Russian original is better.


Movie: 4 Star Rating Cover

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